LONDON/DENVER/LOS ANGELES/SMITHVILLE, MISSOURI: It all started off with a conversation between two former roommates –who ended up best friends– from the University of South California. After the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota in the end of May, which sparked worldwide protests against racism, Bryanna Wallace, who is Black, put out a video to talk about her personal experience, “about how I feel seeing these incidents happen again and with no consequence and no retribution.” After seeing the video her friend, Autumn Gupta, picked up the phone. She listened as Ms. Wallace, who grew up near Los Angeles, talked about what it was like be a Black woman growing up in the U.S.
The two had been assigned as roommates during their first year of university and become fast friends. Ms. Gupta, who grew up in Missouri, and is a self-described Type A person who likes lists and color-coding, went to work immediately. She created a Google document titled Justice in June with resources and schedules to help people learn how to be anti-racist and allies to the Black community.
They never expected the document to go viral. But several weeks after its creation, the document, viewed by over 200,000 people, has become a website. Corporations have approached the two women to work on future projects. Because of the response, their motto now is “We want to take this moment to a movement.” Over Zoom the two friends spoke with she-files co-founders Ginanne Brownell and Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp about the document and how it has helped spark conversations. EXCERPTS:
Ginanne: How did Justice in June come about?
Bryanna: I sent her the video I’d made. [Afterwards] we talked [and] she just listened and was spurred to action from that. She said, “you’re not obliged to [look at the document]” because we had talked about how it’s not the responsibility or job of those in the black community to educate everyone else. There is Google and there are so many resources out there. Don’t put that burden on those who are already dealing with this heavy weight. But, of course, this is my best friend. So, she went to create it and I oversaw. She did it within a day.
Autumn: In that video [she] concludes it with if I was the one who had died would you do anything? Would you use your platform at all to even bring awareness to an issue that I deal with and my community deals with every single day? And for me, it was super impactful because, yes, I could already humanize and identify with the Black Lives Matter movement, but that really brought it home. If it had been her who died I would have been breaking down the walls, I would have been out there every single day really trying to actually bring awareness to this topic. I like to schedule, I like a plan, and I like breaking down things that seem really big and scary to me into smaller chunks. June [was] beginning. A month plan is perfect.
Ginanne: Can you tell me a little bit sort of about your resource choices?
Bryanna: I think a big reason it’s been so successful is because there’s so much out there. For a lot of people, that’s very overwhelming. There’s a lot circulating on social and digital media and that kind of paralyzes people because they don’t know where to start. We’re all in different lanes. For some people, it might be protesting. For some people, it might be donating. For some people, it might be learning and having those more intimate conversations but each of those lanes is valid because we’re all on the same road toward the same end goal. As long as we’re working toward the same end goal then everyone’s part and how they play it has just as much of a place as another’s.
Autumn: I went off of the first two or three aggregated lists that I saw and then was taking things from there based on the timelines or if they were hitting generally different topics. I want to give people a little taste of a lot of different points. That was just the initial motivation behind which things were selected and some were things I was already familiar with. It’s been really cool people have definitely taken us up on our offer of “if you have better or additional resources please send them to us.” We want to improve this. And we meant that very genuinely. Bryanna and I want to amplify voices that haven’t had a platform before but also if people find useful nuggets from that or it’s a helpful reframing, we still think of that as a win.
Ginanne: What has been the reaction to the document?
Bryanna: We were not expecting it to take off. My sister shared it with a coalition of leaders she belongs to. She said people are really liking it. Several friends were reaching out [and one said] “Hey I have a friend who wants to share it on Twitter and his Instagram.” He had close to 30,000 followers. So, once he posted it, it took off. I had another friend who’s an artist and has around 290,000 followers on Instagram. I asked if he would mind sharing. We just surpassed 1.8 million impressions on Twitter and on the doc alone we’re over 200,000 people who have accessed it which is why we created the site because we didn’t expect that much traffic.
Kristin: I’m really curious about where you see this headed next.
Bryanna: The Go Fund Me was a solution. A lot of people wanted to compensate us. We didn’t plan for that. We don’t want any compensation, but okay decided if we’re going to create a website why don’t we just do a $1000 on Go Fund Me and that can go towards the site. Now if you’ve seen it, it’s over $13,000 in the past three weeks. We want to continue to create new tools and resources and our goal right now is a version two of the website.
Ginanne: Social media can be wonderful but can also be quite toxic. Have you had any negative experiences?
Bryanna: We’ve actually overwhelmingly just had a lot of positive support. My dad keeps saying be ready for the haters. Keep your eyes peeled cause when you do good, it happens. We haven’t really had that as an issue.
Autumn: There’s been no overt Internet trolling. I think what has been more telling for me are the people who I know who have engaged with our posts within our personal circles, and the people who have been dead silent on all of this or only responded to share the Candace Owens video , which pushes back against the idea that we all have a role to play.
Ginanne: Where do you see this going?
Autumn: We have two avenues we’re working on in tandem. We have two pilot programs we’re starting here in the next couple of weeks with two corporations, which we’re excited to work on being both career women. We also really like that grassroots approach that you can be an individual from any walk of life and come upon this resource and then it serves you best how you need it. That’s behind version two of the website.
Kristin: Do you see yourselves dipping into intersectionality and feminism as a way to explore another avenue, another branch of the road to use your metaphor?
Bryanna: We saw that because this structure has worked so well that this is an opportunity down the line to delve into other topics. What I call the gap between good intent and those who are lacking good information, education to act and how do we minimize that gap. We think there’s a lot more ground to cover for racial injustice like voting in elections. A lot of people don’t understand that and that inhibits them from voting because they don’t want to spend the time learning. We definitely do want to tackle other topics.
Ginanne: Has there been interest globally on this?
Bryanna: We’ve had thousands of people outside of the U.S. access the doc and we’re seeing a lot of international support.
Kristin: What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened since you came up with the document and started on this journey?
Bryanna: The amount of support that we’ve gotten. I think that has been really humbling for us. The amount of funds that have been raised. I think also companies wanting to be part of the narrative has been I don’t know if I’d say surprising but interesting.
Autumn: For me, the most interesting and exciting is that we’re told our whole lives that the individual voice matters, you can make a difference, be the change you wish to see in the world. It’s so incredibly empowering and encouraging to say we had a conversation, we put together something as regular people. Even if it impacted one person–obviously the reach has been a bit more than that– knowing that we get to be part of that solution is such a good high.
Photo provided by Autumn Gupta (left) and Bryanna Wallace (right)
Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp